Since Beijing, Ryan Lochte has replaced Michael Phelps as the world’s top swimmer. He was the first man or woman to set a world record after FINA’s swimsuit ban, won six gold medals at last year’s world championships and is expected to contend for up to seven golds in London. Sports Illustrated said his upcoming battles with Phelps will be like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. In between training and promoting Procter & Gamble’s new Olympic campaign, Lochte talked with Fourth-Place Medal about the 2012 Olympics, his mom and whether he’s really as cool as everyone says.
Fourth-Place Medal: Saw you on the “Today” show this morning. Was it exciting to be out there with your mom?
Ryan Lochte: Yes, yes. Did you see her crying?
FPM: I did. She said she was a little camera shy, but looked to be pretty comfortable out there.
Ryan Lochte: Oh yeah, she’s just speaking from the heart, so that’s good.
FPM: She was a coach for you when you first started out?
Ryan Lochte: Yes, growing up she was my very first coach.
FPM: How was that dynamic between mom and coach? It’s tough enough sometimes with mom and son and coach and swimmer.
Ryan Lochte: It went pretty well just because on the pool deck she didn’t treat me any different than any other swimmer. Once we got off the deck, she was my mom. We never talked about swimming. It was pretty good that we were able to balance swimming and non-swimming related stuff.
FPM: She’s not a big fan of being front and center during your races. Does she watch? Or is she just looking at the scoreboard?
Ryan Lochte: Oh, no, no. She watches. She definitely watched. But she doesn’t want to be center stage like other people. She just wants to watch me swim and then cheer me on. That’s it.
FPM: I guess you’ve seen the “Thank You, Mom” commercials? Let’s be honest. Did it make you cry?
Ryan Lochte: Honestly, when I first saw it, I got teary eyed. Once you watch something like that, you think back to all the times that your mom has been there for you, taking you to swim practice, taking you to swim meets, giving you hugs, everything like that. It definitely got my teary eyed.
FPM: Are we talking holding back tears, looking up and trying to man up, like you weren’t crying or waterworks?
Ryan Lochte: On the “Today” show, I turned to my mom because I’ve seen it before and thought, ‘I can’t look at this, or I’m going to start crying,’ so I had to turn away and not look at it.”
FPM: I assume crying on the “Today” show would have gotten young women to be even bigger fans of you. Wouldn’t have been a bad move. You were on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” recently. How was that?
Ryan Lochte: That was a lot of fun. It was pretty good because we were working as a team, me and Dara Torres. We didn’t get that far but, hey, at the end of it, we got $10,000 for charity.
FPM: I thought that Brady Bunch question [Lochte and Torres were eliminated on a question about how the photo at the end of the “Brady Bunch” credits could have been made into a tic-tac-toe victory] was unfair for an early question.
Ryan Lochte: Yeah! I was hoping Dara would answer that because she’s way older than me.
FPM: That should have been right in her wheelhouse!
Ryan Lochte: Yeah. [Laughs] I mean, it is what it is. We had a lot of fun.
FPM: Had you envisioned a “Slumdog Millionaire” scenario where you’d run the table?
Ryan Lochte: Aww, that was the definitely the plan.
FPM: We’re 47 days from Olympic trials, which sounds crazy to me. I can only imagine how crazy it sounds to you. How’s your preparation going?
Ryan Lochte: It’s going really well. I’ve been sticking to a four-year plan since after ’08 and I’ve been following it to the T. It’s been a long four years, so I’m definitely excited for this Olympics to happen.
FPM: Was it hard in 2009, when you were three years out?
Ryan Lochte: I had to stick with the plan. I couldn’t let anything discourage me. I just had to stay focused and stay on my regiment for that four-year cycle.
FPM: You haven’t said what you’re swimming at the Olympics. Do you know what you’re swimming in London yet?
Ryan Lochte: I don’t know what I’m going to swim yet because we have Olympic trials first. I’m pretty sure I know the events I’m swimming at trials, so it depends on if I make the team in those events or not.
FPM: You’ve said you expect to win every time you step to the block. What’s better then: Entering seven events and winning six golds and one bronze or entering six events and winning six golds?
Ryan Lochte: You know what? I enjoy swimming. I enjoy racing the top people in the world. Whatever events that I do swim, I’m definitely going for gold. I’m not going for second or third; I’m going to win. I just don’t know how many events I’m going to be in. No matter what, I’m standing on the blocks to win.
FPM: Which non-swimming Olympic event would you be best in?
Ryan Lochte: Oh goodness.
FPM: And you can’t say water polo.
Ryan Lochte: I’d definitely say basketball. I was a better basketball player growing up in high school than I was a swimmer. Basketball to this day is my favorite sport.
FPM: Which position did you play?
Ryan Lochte: Point guard.
FPM: You know, D-Rose got hurt, so there’s maybe an opening on the U.S. squad.
Ryan Lochte: [Laughs] Yeah, I wish.
FPM: In 2008, you were one of the American stars in the Olympics. In 2012, you’re likely to be bigger, not just because of your success, because of NBC’s promotion of you. All of that is a long way of asking: Are you as laid back as Bob Costas would have us believe?
Ryan Lochte: [Laughs] I’m definitely laid back. I don’t take things so seriously. I get joy and the most out of life and have fun and be happy. I guess you could say that’s me?
FPM: Do you get aggravated at things, like traffic lights or Nickelback?
Ryan Lochte: I honestly really don’t get aggravated at all. I just go with the flow. Whatever happens, happens.
FPM: You’re watching ESPN and Skip Bayless rips on Tim Tebow [they both went to the University of Florida]?
Ryan Lochte: Oh, no. That’s someone’s opinion and I’m not really the one to change my attitude for someone else. Whatever they want to think, let them.
FPM: I should have you talk to my Internet commenters.
Ryan Lochte: Ha, yeah.
FPM: Tell me about your unconventional dryland activities [Lochte works out with large tires, ship chains, keg throws and log lifts, among other things.]
Ryan Lochte: I wanted to do things differently after 2008. One of the things was doing that strong man workout. It’s so much fun. Lifting those heavy things is incredible.
FPM: Not harboring a secret desire to be on one of those “World’s Strongest Man” competitions then?
Ryan Lochte: Oh, no not at all. I don’t have the body type for that.
FPM: You’re a big music guy. What’s currently on the playlist?
Ryan LochteI’m always listening to YMCMB, Young Money/Cash Money Billionaire. Lil Wayne, Birdman, Tyga, Nicki Minaj, Drake. I’m listening to all them. I’m a big hip-hop fan.
FPM: Your catchphrase, “jeah,” is a Young Jeezy line. Have you met him?
Ryan Lochte: Yes.
FPM: Is he the person you were most excited to meet?
Ryan Lochte: I still haven’t to this day met Lil Wayne. And I’m dying to meet him. I’ve hung out with Jay-Z a couple of times and he was awesome.
FPM: He wore your gold medals, right?
Ryan Lochte: Yeah, he actually knew who I was, which was kind of shocking. I was like, “dang.” I thought that was pretty cool. He’s big into sports.
FPM: I’m stunned that you haven’t met Lil Wayne though. He’s hanging out with Beiber and Mayweather before the fight and he hasn’t met a multiple gold medalist? He’s a huge sports fan. I’m sure somebody will make that happen at some point soon.
Ryan Lochte: [Laughs] I sure hope so.
FPM: Thanks, Ryan. Good luck over the next few weeks and in Indianapolis and London.
Ryan Lochte: Thanks.